Everyone’s favorite charmer, Richard Gere (PRETTY WOMAN, UNFAITHFUL), and writer/director Oren Moverman (THE MESSENGER) were in town last week to promote their new film TIME OUT OF MIND. A supporter of the New York Coalition for the Homeless for over a decade, the issue of homelessness is a cause near and dear to Gere’s heart. And in fact, the actor helped develop this film and plays the leading role. Gere’s filmography is extensive, and he has played some of the most dashing men in movie history. His roles range from Dr. T to Bill Flynn. But his turn as a down-on-his-luck homeless man in the bleak TIME OUT OF MIND is something we have never seen before and an exciting milestone for the next years of his career.
George (Gere) is a down and out alcoholic who has lost his job, family and home. With nowhere to turn, and winter’s cold bearing down, he is forced to sleep in apartments undergoing renovation and hospital waiting rooms. Through his eyes, we see the streets of New York City via an unlikely, often ignored source. We are shown the actual inner-workings of the City’s “right to shelter” program, and discover, along with George, the cavalcade of issues facing the homeless community on a day-to-day basis (not just the lack of proper shelter and food).
I had the opportunity to interview Gere and Moverman at the swanky Jefferson Hotel in Washington, DC. Lauren Veneziani (DCFilmGirl.com), Mae Abdulbaki (MoviesWithMae.com) and I had a fascinating conversation with the filmmakers about the sneaky way they shot the movie, how Gere really pretended to be homeless on the streets of NYC with actual New Yorkers and was not recognized, what they both think happens to George after the credits roll, and much more. Check out the interview below and make sure you see TIME OUT OF MIND this weekend in select theaters.
Lauren B.: There isn’t much dialogue in the film, but you do focus on the ambient sounds of New York City. Could you talk about the choice you made to shoot the movie that way?
Gere: Except Ben! He jabbers away and jabbers away nonstop [everyone laughs]! That was totally him [points to Ben] about the sounds of the city. That was totally his contribution.
Moverman: It’s really interesting because we keep saying that – there’s very little dialogue in the movie. But there is non-stop dialogue in the movie. Every scene has a ton of dialogue; it’s just not always our main character. In fact, it’s rarely our main character because he is someone who is dealing with a very interior world and is moving through it with very basic communication. When he needs to communicate and is drawn into communication he does speak.
Everything started with the character. He is a guy in isolation, who is not very communicative, who has a drinking problem and is without a home. He’s a drifter and moves through the city of New York. All around him, non-stop dialogue. People are living their lives. You’re hearing the voices of scenes that are happening around him that are basically telling you everyone’s got a story. Some of the stories are quiet. Some of the scenes are dialogue-heavy. And some are just noise, but we are going to focus on this one man and his story, who in the real world we may not be looking at. That is not an accusation or judgment, but is just the way reality is. There are a lot of homeless people on the street and we may not notice every one of them. We’re saying every person has a story. Sometimes it’s around the edges of the frame and sometimes it’s in the middle of the frame. It’s just another way to communicate.
Lauren V.: I particularly loved the scenes between George (Richard Gere) and his daughter Maggie (Jena Malone). They obviously have a rocky relationship and we don’t get a lot of their backstory. As an actor, are you creating a backstory for that relationship and for your character?
Gere: I’ve gotten that question a few times and you would think this is the one movie where I would create an elaborate historical background; I did none. The movie, to me, exists in such a archetypal planet, an interior experience, that it’s all known. As soon as you see a scene like that, you know what the history is. You know there is a problem, you know there is estrangement but what we didn’t want was it to feel like there was some sort of sexual abuse thing, we did not want to go there. Whatever the issues are they’re knowable. Whatever the history we give of him [George], finally we give it late in the movie, some details, its just a rough narrative of what happened but it doesn’t explain anything. As our life histories it doesn’t necessarily explain anything other than the surface of who we are and we were looking for something deeper than that. I was working in a very intuitive way, on this, and these scenes came together very quickly. It wasn’t heavy preparation. The first scene that Jena [Malone] and I shot was in the Laundromat and we didn’t rehearse. I don’t like to rehearse; he [the director Oren ] does not like to rehearse. We met on the set and I remember walking into the scene, playing the scene, and I got very moved during the scene and afterward I broke down. It was so perfect as actors and as people. We never had to force anything.
Mae: Richard, we’re used to seeing you play very charming characters and you’re obviously well-known. How did you try to blend in as someone who people would rather avoid and not talk to vs. yourself, who I am sure everyone wants to come up and talk to?
Gere: That’s the funny thing, I didn’t do anything different, other than give myself a bad haircut and kind of nondescript clothes… and emotionally be in the space of that guy. But I must tell you that I have certainly been in the emotional space of that guy and people still project “movie star” on me. Whatever the cues were that we built up, we put this guy… we put me on the street, and part of it was being still in New York City on a street corner. No one stands still on a street corner. The only people who do are people who have a problem, are panhandlers, dangerous. All those things come up and I could feel from blocks away, people making that judgement and projecting that on me. So much so that their interior script started playing about who this guy is. Is he homeless or not? No eye contact, but they’d already built up an opera about this guy standing still on the street corner. It’s a profound experience to go through, to realize how surface all of our interactions are with each other. Projecting things constantly in the echo chamber of our own thoughts.
Lauren B.: So the camera was hidden for those scenes?
Gere: The whole movie the camera was hidden.
Moverman: I mean, sometimes in interiors we didn’t have to hide it. If we had live environments, in the streets or even into offices, we would be on rooftops or through shop windows. Sometimes when he would be inside, with Ben Vereen for example in the café, we would be outside and let all of the reflections of the world move like ghosts over them. It was important to hide the camera so he could be in live environments. It was also the aesthetic approach to the movie to have these layers separating you from a character you don’t normally see and the movie, itself, making an effort to find him and to follow his story.
Lauren B.: And since you were filming these scenes on the streets of New York, how involved was the actual New York homeless community in the filmmaking process? Did you use them as extras, for example in the scenes when you were standing in line for entry into the shelter?
Gere: Yes, we did that. Only in those scenes we had some friends of ours from Coalition for the Homeless. Many people who work there are formerly [homeless] people. We also had extras, who were incredible. I rarely do this, but I called up our casting people for extras and said, “In all of the films I have done, I have never seen the quality of people that you are bringing in.” We were doing scenes… they were actually in Bellevue, by the way. The scenes that were in Bellevue were actually in Bellevue – never shot there before; that was never allowed. But the scenes in the rooms, when I finally had my stuff and got my bed… those were all extras. But they were so incredible I couldn’t tell the difference between our own homeless friends and the extras.
Lauren B.: Was the reception good within the homeless community? Were they interested in the message of the movie?
Moverman: Yes, and the people we used in the movie are people in a work program. They were living in shelters but they were actually in a work program to earn a living and get out of the shelter. It was paid work and it was legal. It was a gesture from both sides of the fact that they could come in, work in another shelter all day long, and then at the end of the day get in a van and go to the shelter where they lived.
Lauren V.: I thought the movie did a beautiful job of creating a raw and real portrait of a homeless man living in New York City and I personally found it very educational about the homeless community in Manhattan and the homeless facilities that they have there. What do you hope audiences will take away after they see this movie?
Gere: Well, New York is the only right-to-shelter state, so you can’t find there here [in DC], you can’t find that anywhere. It’s still a form of warehousing. There are successes, but most failures in a system like that. I just think a general knowledge of the life that someone leads on the streets and what exactly it’s like in a shelter and this is how it is in New York. And they probably aren’t that different in other places where shelters are set up. I think we were more interested in finding what are the mysteries of human communication and the mysteries of human yearning? It is something that we all share. His yearnings are no different than yours or mine. Where’s my place in the universe? I feel safe and protected and people around me think I’m precious. We all look for that, whether it’s billionaires of guys on the street. I think the most gratifying thing is when people see the movie and they say, “You know, I usually walk by that guy on the corner, but I spent time thinking about it and I gave him some money and I didn’t feel the tension around that. It was more of a fresh human response to a fellow human being.
Mae: Oren, is it true that when you’ve introduced the movie to audiences before you’ve asked them to use their cell phone, to text, call people? Why is that?
Moverman: That’s true.
Gere: It is true, I tried to stop him! [laughs] Oren, Oren! Bad director!
Moverman: It’s just to make a point. I don’t think most people take me up on it, so it’s not as risky as it sounds. But the idea is, in talking about the way we shot it and the sound, we put so much of the real world into the movie beyond the frame – people on cell phones, people engaged in their lives, in conversation and all that kind of stuff. My point was that it didn’t need to stop. This is, we said, a movie about a person you don’t really notice. You would notice him if you make an effort. Most of us are really in our phones these days, walking down the street. We’re in a hurry, we’re trying to connect certain things and make certain things happen and I just felt like in a world where the sound is so assaulting and so much in your face, that’s part of the spirit of it. You can speak on the phone and not disturb anyone because actually, there’s someone speaking on the phone onscreen. And people sometimes in really good theaters will just go like this [makes a face and turns around in his chair] turn around and be like, “Who’s talking over there? I’m watching a movie here.” And it’s not a distraction if you bring more of life’s distractions onto a screen full of distractions.
Lauren B.: I was really engaged in the film and at the end was really happy that there was a glimmering of a re-connection between your character and Jena Malone’s character. Have either of you thought about what happens to George after the credits roll?
Gere: We wanted you to think about it. [everyone laughs]
Lauren B.: Well what do you, personally, think happens to George?
Gere: First of all, realistically, nobody changes quickly. Relationships don’t get fixed quickly, especially one that is as damaged as this one clearly is. It’s a possibility. It’s a moment of possibility and is up to them if they can take it any further than that. I think we’re thankful that there is a possibility of getting to another place with them because we love both of them. We love them and we understand that. But we have all done horrible things to each other. We have let people down and people have let us down. There is no one on this planet that doesn’t know what that feels like. It felt like a generous move on our part. He [points to Moverman] was reluctant to do it.
Moverman: It wasn’t depressing enough for me. [everyone laughs]
Gere: We certainly were not going to do the shot where she finds him on the street and they kiss and hug and everything is forgiven… The music comes up… no, no, no, no.
Lauren V.: Your filmography is incredible and all of your characters have been different, so when you’re finished with a film, does it take you a while to get out of the mind set of that character or are you thinking about your next project?
Gere: When I was beginning as an actor, I had to hold onto these characters 24 hours a day and I think I see that in other young actors as well. For good or for bad, its not that way anymore and I get in and out with these guys. But when a movie is over we all get depressed, not from the character, it’s the group of people of the movie and we were so reliant on each other. We had to come up with our best when we didn’t feel like it and our private lives were put on hold. It’s trench warfare in a lot of ways. When its over, you don’t have to get up at 5 am and you’re eating properly, but there is a letdown when it’s over, there is a depression.
Mae: This film is very experimental for you both and very different in terms of your past work. What was the reaction going in when you said, “Hey, Richard Gere is going to be playing a homeless guy?”
Moverman: I think that when I started talking to Richard about it… we met at a party and reconnected and he was telling me what he was up to, he said that there was a certain character, not even a script, but a character that he was obsessed with. And that’s all I needed to hear. I knew there was some deep connection that would be really interesting no matter what this movie is. [to Richard] I don’t think you’ve been offered many homeless parts before.
Gere: Millions of these scripts are out there! [laughs]
Moverman: It says something, the fact that you bought the script, you held onto it. It was a singular gesture that happened in your life and you intuitively knew that there was going to be something there. I’m shocked by the patience to kind of see when the right moment came.
Gere: I didn’t want to make a normal movie out of this. I felt there was a deeper movie and I suppose I could have made a normal movie out of this right away. It’s just not what I was interested in. And I couldn’t articulate exactly the movie I was looking for. Once I was able to start to do that is when we met… and we hadn’t seen each other in a while. A year or two, maybe more. And it just went pweh, out like that. He was the guy to do this. His history, the screenplays that he wrote, the films that he made. He’s looking for something deeper than the obvious. Even if it is a genre film. RAMPART is kind of a genre film that he shakes up and does something else with. This couldn’t be a normal film and I was willing to go and he was willing to go in the direction of not doing anything that doesn’t please us. Nothing. And trust the fact that if we please ourselves, there are going to be some people out there that also will engage it.